There is no question that except for the frequent inspections and re-timing of traffic signals, the other major solution to traffic congestion is HOT lanes, or High Occupancy and Toll lanes. They present a quadruple win situation.
Win number 1: They are an efficient transit-way for buses and vanpools. Any vehicle with five or more people in it goes free at all times. This can be our new HI-5 expressway. Our HI-5 HOT lanes make bus public transit competitive to driving. Thanks to HOT lanes as designed in the University of Hawaii Congestion Study, congestion between the H-1 and H-2 merge on the west side, and Waikiki on the east side can be reduced by over 25% in the morning commute.
Win number 2: Toll is not a penalty or tax. It is a congestion insurance fee that low occupancy motorists have the option to purchase. The HOT lanes cannot fill up with buses and vanpools. They have plenty of room for other traffic. But a variable toll is established so that the lanes are not a free-for-all which would make them congested. The gradual toll is there to provide the guarantee that those who choose to pay it, they will travel at over 50 miles per hour. That's a trip from Waikele to downtown in under 15 minutes in the middle of rush hour! That is worth a few bucks, right?
Win number 3 is the relief of congestion on H-1. Since buses, vanpools and several paying motorists switch to the HOT lanes, there is less traffic on the H-1 and those who stay on it realize a modest reduction in travel time for free. As a result, both HOT and H-1 traffic conbined realize large reductions in both travel time and fuel consumption. That's better quality of life and lesser dependency to fossil fuels. And an overall boost in the economy because, for example, a plumber can save 30 minutes at the AM and PM peaks and that allows for another house call and added income! (Try deal with business calls, freight deliveries and emergency services with the rails...)
Win number 4 is the revenue collection. HOT lanes is a road that actually collects some money. That makes it a bankable project. You can borrow in order to develop it or you can take private companies as partners and share the risk and the revenues. HOT lanes are well established PPP projects or Public-Private Partnerships.
Of course except for a few people, all the above is a "secret" in Honolulu who is still planning to address its acute traffic congestion problems with 19th century rails. San Fransisco plans for over 750 lane-miles of HOT lanes and Oahu's transportation plans do not even include the words HOT lanes.
As the table below shows, 45 (!) HOT lane projects are open or in various stages of getting done in the United States, including most cities with rail and the nation's capital. Of those 45 projects, 24 are at stages that are more advanced than Honolulu's rail, which is still in paperwork with no environmental, state and federal approvals. (As I mentioned in my March 1, 2010 post, there is plenty of time to do the right thing for Oahu.)